Forrest Gump’s 20th anniversary is nigh, but is it really cause for celebration? Nah.
The 20th anniversary of the release of Forrest Gump is upon us this year, and it appears that people still love the film as much as ever. Some gush with appreciation for the simple man that is Forrest and his understanding of the world. Some describe the film as a drama. Some describe it as a romance, or even as a comedy. Whichever way you look at it, Forrest Gump is a classic piece of American cinema…kind of. Dissect the film and delve into its story, characters, and overall themes, and Forrest Gump becomes truly overrated, especially when compared to its cinematic peers.
Forrest Gump is a classic piece of American cinema…kind of. Dissect the film, and Forrest Gump becomes truly overrated
The story of Forrest Gump begins with the title character sitting on a park bench, telling his life story to passersby. His story intersects with numerous people, movements, and events throughout United States history from the mid to late 20th century. According to Forrest, he personally met numerous US presidents such as John F Kennedy, Lyndon B Johnson and Richard Nixon, as well as Elvis Presley, who got his legendary dance moves from Forrest. As the film progresses, we see a multitude of US popular culture nods to musicians, consumer products and events; it is these Americana pop culture references that seem to resonate the most with people.
There is wit to the screenplay, with lines that reference Forrest becoming invested with some “fruit company” (Apple Computers), as well as calling the police and reporting flashlights in the windows of a neighbouring building (Watergate) that are keeping him awake. Even his on-again, off-again “girlfriend,” Jenny, who also doubles as one of the most unlikable characters in film history, is intrinsically linked to US history and pop culture. She mentions wanting to “be a singer like Joan Baez” when, l0 and behold, there’s a Joan Baez poster on the wall above her bed in the same shot. Eventually she becomes a nude folk singer at a club, where she goes by the name ‘Bobbie Dylan’. Essentially, Forrest Gump is one giant in-joke that mostly everyone is a part of.
On the other hand, there is the historical aspect of the film. The eventual rock and roll movement of the 1950s is covered by the Elvis reference, while Jenny herself is often used simply to represent the evolution of the free-spirited American. She joins up with a group of hippies, attends a peace rally around the time of the Vietnam War, and even joins up with the Black Panthers at one point, before succumbing to an unknown virus (possibly HIV, since the film’s timetable matches up). The long and short of it all is that Forrest Gump is a film that is a product of pop culture fluff that has in itself become a piece of pop culture fluff.
The long and short of it all is that Forrest Gump is a product of pop culture fluff that has in itself become a piece of pop culture fluff
It’s American propaganda presented in a Hollywood film, as if the filmmakers took a very basic American history book and superimposed Forrest Gump into it. Forrest Gump was absolutely loaded with praise as it climbed to over $320 million in US box office sales. It cleaned up many of the top awards at the 67th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It even got the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects (seriously?). This was the very same year that two of the greatest films of all time were released: Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption, and Quentin Tarantino’s opus, Pulp Fiction.
There was nothing that Forrest Gump did that trumped either of these two films in terms of storytelling or furthering what is expected from a film’s audience. It did not give us an unbelievable and emotional final act, as did The Shawshank Redemption, nor did it toy with our perceptions, as did the revolutionary Pulp Fiction. Ultimately, Forrest Gump is a popcorn movie. It’s a self aware stroll down memory lane that will make us chuckle and misinterpret its fondness for nostalgia as being particularly witty, but it’s most certainly not better than director Robert Zemeckis’s other work, nor is it superior to its contemporaries.
All images: Paramount